Escape To Borneo (Photos)
One of the world’s great city views is from Kowloon, looking across the Victoria Harbor to the mountainous concrete, glass and steel spires on the island of Hong Kong. From Hong Kong wanting back, the views have been never so lofty, because for 73 years the low-flying planes of nearby Kai Tak airport required building peak restrictions. Now, though, with the new Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok, some powerful unleashed energy is pushing the Kowloon landscape higher, like crashing tectonic plates ceaselessly lifting great mountain ranges further above the clouds.
Just lately, after giving a talk at a conference in Hong Kong, I spent some time resting in my room on the 41st floor of the Renaissance Harbour View Hotel gazing at the mountains-in-the-making throughout the best way in Kowloon, and puzzled how far away may I find the actual thing. An unfurl of the map showed that the highest mountain between the Himalayas and New Guinea was Mount Kinabalu, 13,455 feet, in the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo, simply three hours flight to the southeast. Climbing a mountain without an elevator was strictly in opposition to doctor’s orders, as two weeks earlier I had undergone surgery, an inguinal hernia repair, and was told to lay low. But, researching Mt. Kinabalu I discovered the summit was called Low’s Peak, after the European who first climbed the mountain in the middle 19th century. The weekend was nigh, so the next morning I used to be on an Malaysia Airlines flight to the state capital of Kota Kinabalu, just 4 degrees north of the equator, for a gut-wrenching, four-day adventure in Borneo.
For more than a century, since explorers and missionaries first ventured into the interior of Borneo, outsiders have been captivated by its half-truths and half-fictions, awed by its headhunting heritage, its tales of big insects and snakes, of wild males who lived in bushes, of prodigious leeches that stood up when sensing a human. Borneo, which dominates millions of acres of tropical rain forests on the world’s third largest island, was the stuff of nightmares. Sabah once belonged to an Englishman, the publisher Alfred Dent, who leased it and finally known as it British North Borneo. It was a state administered as a business enterprise till 1942, when the Japanese invaded and took control. After the Second World Battle, the British returned and Borneo grew to become a Crown Stone Island Sale colony. In 1963, Sabah gained independence and joined the Federation of Malaysia. The identify Sabah means, “land beneath the wind,” a place where early maritime traders sought refuge beneath the typhoon belt of the Philippines.
From the airport I stepped into the silken air of the Borneo night, saturated and sizzling, with a barely sweet odor. Even though it was darkish, I may sense the mountain to the east, bending me with its silent mind. It seemed to reel in the minibus I rode 60 miles up into the eponymous park headquarters — Mt. Kinabalu is essentially the most accessible large mountain within the tropics — the place I had dinner and checked into one of many spacious break up-level chalet. This was base camp with style.
As I sipped a port on the back balcony, tiny life in the tangle a few yards away broadcast news of my presence in a steady din of clicks, trills, buzzes and noises starting from deep fats frying to the shriek of automobile alarms. But, there was greater than wildlife on this backcloth of biodiversity beyond my feet. The 300-square-mile national park’s botanically famous flora include more than 1,000 orchid species, 450 ferns, 40 kinds of oak, 27 rhododendrons and a plant that bears platter-dimension flowers, the Rafflesia. In all, Mount Kinabalu is house to 4,000 to 4,500 vascular plant species, more than a quarter the number of all recorded species in the United States.
The next morning I stepped over a moth the size of a bat and outside into a day tidy and brilliant. For the primary time I may see the hanging granite massif that looks like a mad ship riding excessive rainforest waves, with fantastic masts, tines, spires and aiguilles dotted across its pitched and washed deck of rock at 13,000 feet. Waterfalls spilled down its sides as though a tide had just pulled back from a cliff. The youngest non-volcanic mountain on the earth, Kinabalu continues to be growing, pushed upwards at the rate of a quarter of an inch a year. Borneo was formed as a result of plate movements uniting two separate portions of the island some 50 million years ago. Mount Kinabalu now lies near the location where the two components joined on the northeastern tip of Borneo.
About 40 million years in the past, the region lay below the sea and accumulated thick layers of marine sediments, creating sandstone and shale, later uplifted to form the Crocker Range. Mount Kinabalu started out about 10 million years ago as a huge ball of molten granite known as a “pluton” lying beneath the sedimentary rocks of the Crocker Range. This pluton slowly cooled between nine and 4 million years in the past, and about 1,000,000 years ago, it was thrust from the bowels of the earth and grew to a height probably several thousand feet higher than at present. When the Pleistocene Ice Age emerged, rivers of ice coated Kinabalu, finally carrying down the delicate sandstone and shale and shrinking the summit. Low’s Peak, the best point on Kinabalu, and the horned towers of the mountain, were created by the bulldozing of these enormous glaciers.
Checking in with Jennifer on the Registration Workplace at Park Headquarters, I saw the sign that mentioned no one may climb to the summit without hiring a certified guide. So, I enlisted Eric Ebid, 30, a mild man of Borneo, small, enthusiastic with dangerous teeth but a ready and real smile; eyes the colour of wet coal that might see each forest twitch; little English however a knack for communicating; and a phenomenal singing voice. His footwear had been fabricated from thin rubber, not much greater than sandals, however he walked with a spring that made his limbs look like manufactured from some resilient, lightweight wood. When he shook arms, he first touched his hand to his heart, and bowed. Eric was a Dusun, the dominant ethnic group of northern Borneo. The Dusuns have lived on the flanks of Mount Kinabalu for centuries and consider that the spirits of their ancestors reside on the summit, the realm of the lifeless. They name the mountain Aki Nabula, “Revered Place of the Lifeless.” They had been once warlike, and used to carry their captives in bamboo cages up the slopes of the mountain, and spear them to demise in the shadow of its jagged summit.
The park bus labored to get to the trailhead, two and a half zigzag miles up the hill at a energy station at 6,a hundred ft that not solely provides electricity to Kota Kinabalu, however has a cable that stretches up the mountain to a relaxation home two miles above sea degree.
Off the bus, we stepped by a gate into a world steaming and flourishing, rife with birdsong. We had been in one of the world’s oldest dipterocarp rain forests, far older than the arbors of the Amazon Basin, now the final place on earth for lots of the world’s rarest plants and wildlife.
The ascent began by dropping a hundred feet of altitude, dropping us into a rainforest as lush and improbable as the canvases of Henri Rousseau. Then, in earnest, we began the unrelenting five-mile rise, switching back and forth over razor backed ridges, by means of groves of broadleaved oak, laurel and chestnut, draped in mosses, epiphytes and liverworts and thickened with a trumpeting of ferns. The trail was customary of tree limbs pinioned to serve as risers and occasionally as posts and handrails, a stairway pulled immediately from nature. At much-used and appreciated common intervals, there were charming gazebos, with toilets and tanked water. I stopped at the primary, refilling my water bottle.
For 1,000,000 years Kinabalu was a spot where only imaginations and spirits traveled; no one disturbed the dead there — until the British arrived. In 1851 Sir Hugh Low, a British Colonial Secretary, bushwhacked to the first recorded ascent, accompanied by native tribal guides and their chief, who purified the trespass by sacrificing a rooster and seven eggs. In addition they left a cairn of charms, including human teeth. Not to be outdone, Sir Hugh left a bottle with a be aware recording his feat, which he later characterized as “essentially the most tiresome walk I have ever skilled.”
By late morning, we entered the cloud forest, where the higher altitude and thinner soil begin to twist and warp the vegetation. There were constant pockets and scarves of fog. At 7,300 ft we passed by means of a narrow-leafed forest where Miss Gibbs’ Bamboo climbed into the tree trunks, clinging to limbs like a delicate moss. Lillian Gibbs, an English botanist and the primary girl identified to scale Mount Kinabalu, collected over a thousand botanical specimens for the British Museum in 1910, at a time when there have been no relaxation houses, shelters or corduroyed trails.
By mid-day the weather turned grim; skies opened, the views down mountain were blotted, and the climb was more like an upward wade by means of a thick orange soup of alkaline mud. I used to be soaked to the pores and skin, but the rain was warm, as if it was all meant to be humane, even medicinal. For a second, I forgot my hernia.
Still, when the rain became a deluge, we stopped at the Layang Layang Staff Headquarters (which was locked shut) for a rest and a hope that the downpour may subside. We were at eight,600 toes, higher than halfway to our sleeping hut. Whereas there, we munched on cheese sandwiches and laborious-boiled eggs, sipped bottled water. And whereas there, I watched as a small parade of tiny girls, bent beneath burongs (elongated cane baskets) heaped high above their heads with loads of food, fuel and beer for the overnight hut, marched by on positive ft, trekking to serve the vacationers who now flock to this mountain.
The primary vacationer made the climb in 1910, and, in the identical 12 months, so did the first dog, a bull terrier named sale on stone island Wigson. Since the paving of the highway from Kota Kinabalu in 1982, tourist development has been speedy, by Borneo’s requirements. Over 20,000 folks a 12 months now attain Low’s Peak — the best level — through the Paka Spur route, and a whole lot of Dusuns are employed in getting outsiders up and down and around the mountain trails.
After 30 minutes the rain hurtled even more durable, so we shrugged and continued upwards, into the center of the cloud forest, amongst groves of knotted and gnarled tea-timber, whose lichen-encrusted trunks and limbs have been stunted and twisted like strolling sticks. On the bottom we stepped over foot-lengthy purple worms, black and brown frogs and a black beetle the dimensions of an ice ax.
As we climbed Eric identified numerous rhododendrons with blooms that ranged from peach to pink and the insectivorous pitcher plants, the scale of avocadoes. As an alternative of nutrients within the soil, they feed on trapped insects. Popping out of a protracted leaf, moderately like an iris, was the trapping mechanism, a tendril and cup with a mouth that regarded like a tiny steam shovel, or the lead in “Little Store of Horrors.” Native lore has it that Spenser St. John, a botanist who climbed Kinabalu with Hugh Low on his second expedition in 1862, discovered a pitcher plant containing a drowned rat floating in six pints of water.
At 9,000 ft the terrain started to alter drastically. Here an outcropping of ultramafic rock made for an orange, toxic soil, out of which struggled a forest of dwarf pine and myrtle. Right here, too, I met an Australian on his means down. Although younger and hulkish, he regarded, in a phrase, terrible — dour and inexperienced and was of the historic mariner kind, shaken and filled with foreboding recommendation. “It’s best to only do this, mate, if you’re in great, great shape,” and i felt a ping where my hernia scar pinched.
Accustomed to the Spartan A-frames and Quonsets that serve as huts on different mountains I have climbed, I used to be unprepared for the majesty of the spruce-wooden Laban Rata Guesthouse. Anchored on stilts at the edge of a cliff just above eleven,000 ft, two stories tall with a cheerful yellow roof, the place was like a boutique hotel. Its cozy lounge featured a decorative Christmas tree, a set of X-mas cards, although this was months earlier than or after the vacation, and a television with a satellite tv for pc feed displaying The Travel Channel. On one wall had been certificates prematurely for sale stating summit success. Plate glass windows wrapped the down side of the mountain, where we watched clouds stream by crags and cauldrons like rivers of positive chalk. When the rain stopped, I stepped exterior and watched the clouds blow off the mountain above, and abruptly there was an empire of silvery gray granite, castled with barren crags, as awesome as the slopes of Rundle Mountain in Banff, or Half Dome in Yosemite, thick rivulets of water shaving off the sleek face in falls.
The canteen menu ranged from contemporary fish to fried rice to French fries and Guinness. In my room, which slept four, there was an electric light and a small electric heater that allowed me to dry my clothes. Down the hall were scorching showers.
Exhausted from the day’s trek, I fell into the arms of Morpheus around seven, trusting that Eric would come by with a wake-up knock round three a.m. The motivation for beginning in the wee hours was that tropical mountains usually cloud over after sunrise, and often it begins to rain soon after, making an ascent at an affordable hour not only more difficult, but dangerous, and the coveted views non-existent.
Positive sufficient, on the crack of three there was a knock on the door. One in all my roommates, a British woman who was suffering a headache, announced she would not be going further. Another half-dozen at the hut would also turn around here, affected by exhaustion or altitude sickness. I felt sorry for them, but additionally felt happy with myself that, regardless of my wound, I had the moxie and power to continue. I fumbled for my hiking boots and tripped downstairs for a cup of tea. At 3:20, I donned my headlamp and set out below a blue-black sky hung with a glittering Milky Approach. The stars appeared as close to and thick as when I used to be a toddler. I listened for ghosts, however every thing was bone quiet and cool. This was truly a mountain of the lifeless.
I followed the little white pool of light my headlamp cast on the granite just ahead of my toes. Above, the summit loomed, felt greater than seen. The darkish mass of the mountain vied with the vacuous area throughout, we caught between the 2. Trying again, I noticed a constellation of 20 or so headlamp beams bobbing and flashing as their homeowners negotiated in my footsteps. I was amazed that in my situation I could possibly be forward of so many.
The emergence at treeline onto the chilly granite face was abrupt, simply as the primary gold and pink bands of daybreak cracked open and singed the sky. It was like stepping from a closet into a ballroom, and everyone seemed to move a little bit quicker, enamored by the faucet of unwrapped stone, rhyming with the rock. “Pelan, pelan,” (slowly, slowly) suggested Eric, as if he knew of my harm.
At locations the place the rock angled up forty levels or extra, solicitous path builders had anchored enlargement bolts and fastened stout white ropes. At one level, on the rock face of Panar Laban (Place of Sacrifice), where early guides stopped to appease the souls of their ancestors, we received down on our knees and scrambled upwards on all fours.
Within the robed gentle of 6 a.m.clambering up an aplite dyke, I may make out the pinnacles surrounding us, legacies of the Ice Age: the Ugly Sisters and malformed Donkey’s Ears on our proper, immense St. John’s and South Peak on our left. Low’s Peak was tucked in between, like an attic staircase. The graceful plates we had been scaling grew to become a pile of frost-shattered blocks and boulders, forming a jumble of big tesserae looking for a mosaic.
To the roof of the world we scrabbled just as the sun showed its face. I sucked some thin air, and looked around. It was beautiful to look at the mountaintop transfigured by sunrise. The undulant granite towers warmed with gentle, as guides lit up their cigarettes. It seemed like the Tower of Babel as each new climber made the last step and cheered in German, Japanese, Australian or Bahasa.
I basked now in the bliss of standing bare against the heavens, with the fathomless interior of Borneo far below me. On one side fell the mile-deep ravine that is Low’s Gully, generally known as Demise Valley or Place of the Lifeless, believed to be guarded by a slaying dragon, where in 1994 a British Army expedition acquired famously stuck in the jungle-crammed slash. Padi fields, kampungs (villages) and an endless expanse of jungle unfolded on another aspect; the dancing lights of Kota Kinabalu and the shimmering South China Sea on one other.
I circled the broken bottleneck of Low’s Peak, taking in each facet. When i completed the circle and looked west again, sunrise arduous on my back, the immense shadow of Kinabalu, an enormous, darkish-blue cone, appeared to fly over the land and sea, stretching to the horizon. It was sublime; there was nothing to append.
And, I reached down and felt the scar from my current operation, I felt gentle-headed, crammed to the brim with the helium of gratefulness and felt pretty trick that I had accomplished what my doctor had said I couldn’t. I felt glued together with sweat and brio, king of the jungle and strutted and posed. Till I appeared throughout the plateau and noticed a tall, dark-haired girl limping towards me, balanced by a pair of ski poles. She sat down near me, and pulled up her pants leg to reveal a full brace that went from her lower leg to her thigh.
“What occurred ” I could not assist but ask, and in a Dutch accent she replied, “Skiing accident within the Alps a couple weeks in the past. Destroyed my ACL. That’s my anterior cruciate ligament. Doctor said I couldn’t climb mountains for six months. But, I couldn’t resist, so here I am.”
Humbled, I started back down the mountain.
Still sore from the climb, I spent two more days in Borneo, where all who handed immediately recognized one thing about me, smiled knowingly and mentioned “Kinabalu,” as I hobbled about like an old man.
A 40-minute flight took me to Sandakan on Sabah’s east coast, where I first visited the Sepilok Rehabilitation Center, a life raft for one of many world’s largest orangutan populations. Since gazetted in 1964 to reintegrate baby orangutans orphaned by poachers or separated from their mothers because of intensive deforestation to life in the wild, over 300 crimson apes have gone by the eight to 12 12 months rehabilitation process and been released back into the wild. It was a thrill to face among the many apes, exchanging curious appears to be like and questioning how our futures would fare.
Subsequent I visited the Sukau Rainforest Lodge on the banks of the crocodiled Kinabatangan River. From there I took a experience in a hand-carved boat along a gallery of sonneratia trees, where proboscis monkeys, with big droopy noses and bulging beer guts, made crashing tree-to-tree leaps, whereas bands of pig-tailed macaques chattered away. At one level a low drone of cicadas accelerated to a fierce roar that was almost deafening, and that i may barely hear the guide as she pointed out a yellow-ring cat snake twisted around an overhanging branch just above my head.
And i trundled down a laterite highway, by means of plantations from a Somerset Maugham tableau, to go to the limestone Gomantong Caves, about as little as I might go in Borneo after Low’s Peak, the place the nests of tiny swiflets’ carry high prices in China as the main ingredient for the prized chicken’s nest soup. It was a nightmarish place, a place crawling with poisonous centipedes, full of the acrid stench of bat guano and the crunching sounds underfoot of a particular breed of big pink cockroaches that may strip a chook carcass in a matter of hours. I was happy to depart. Then I was back in Hong Kong.
This time I stayed at the Intercontinental, closest lodge to the waterfront, with the best view of the Hong Kong Island skyline. As I sat again within the lodge Jacuzzi nursing my wounds with a gin and tonic, gazing on the simulacra mountains, the night gentle dashed off the windowed pinnacles and spires, piercing a sea of clouds.
Here, if I squinted, the illusion was complete, and i may overlay the crowns of Kinabalu with these of the previous Crown colony. Mountains, I realized, be them made by man or nature, reconciled the bourgeois love of order with the bohemian love of emancipation.